Apple released Security Update 2011-003 yesterday with protection from the MacDefender malware and its variants, but some of our readers might want to do more to protect their Macs from malware. Avast has been a longtime supplier of a free (for non-commercial use) antivirus package for Windows that is unobtrusive and fast, so it was with a great deal of interest that I read a PR blast from the company this morning.
The company has just released a beta of avast! Free Antivirus for Mac for download and testing, and like the Windows version of the software, it looks pretty good. The company previously had a download for Mac, but as noted in the user forums on the Avast site, "The current popularity of Apple products also makes them more interesting for the bad guys so we thought it would be good to prepare for the battle sooner rather than later." The result is a product that is much more on par with the Windows product.
To install the downloaded beta app, you simply drag the application icon to the Applications folder and double-click to launch. The app uses Growl notification, so it helps if you have Growl pre-installed. The app has three shields that are in operation at all times: the File Shield, which scans the binaries of launched apps and all files that are being modified, the Web Shield, which monitors and filters all HTTP traffic coming from websites, and the Mail Shield, which monitors and filters all POP3 and IMAP traffic.
In addition, avast! Free Antivirus for Mac can do on-demand scanning of the whole file system, network volumes, or mounted removable volumes. The scanning engine is updated automatically -- I'm just happy that it doesn't speak "virus database has been updated" the way the Windows version does because that has a tendency to startle me.
Unfortunately, the app does seem to slow down page loading in Safari, and I'm sure it would do the same with Firefox and Chrome. Of course, this is beta-ware, so the Avast team will most likely work on optimizing their code as the product gets closer to general release.
If you're considering antivirus software for Mac for yourself, relatives, or employees, you might want to take a look at the avast! Free Antivirus for Mac beta.